How to choose an Ethernet cable

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Written By Muhammad Abdullah

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It might be difficult to choose Ethernet cables that will perform best for you without going overboard, but we can assist. We’ve put up a buying guide that compares the advantages and drawbacks of several Ethernet connections and includes a chart, glossary, and other shopping advice. The explanation we’ve provided below is a wonderful place to start when determining which Ethernet cable is ideal for your house or place of business.

Also Read: QLED vs. OLED: Which TV technology is best?

Ethernet Cable Types Explained

It’s crucial to comprehend the many Ethernet cable varieties before choosing one that works for you. “Cat” is a typical phrase you’ll come across while looking for an Ethernet cable. Cat is a “category” reference. The names used to identify the various Ethernet cable versions are categorized.

Each grade of Ethernet cable provides a hint as to the top speed and bandwidth you might anticipate. To do this, Ethernet cable versions are simple to understand: the higher the category number, the faster the transmission speed and bandwidth A Cat 7 Ethernet cable is therefore superior to a Cat 5 cable.

Below is a list of the various Ethernet cable classifications, along with the transmission rates and bandwidth for each (also called frequency).

All of the Ethernet classifications from Cat 1 through Cat 5 are no longer in use. These days, it’s quite difficult to find those wires. You can find Cat 5e and higher Ethernet cables while looking for them.

The good news is that Ethernet cables can be retrofitted since they share the same RJ45 connection, which is often seen on Ethernet ports. Hence, if you wish to replace your old cable with a new one, you shouldn’t be concerned about the RJ45 jargon. Your present ports will still support newer cables.

Essential Things to Consider When Buying an Ethernet Cable

Buying the newest cable category when buying an Ethernet cable is a simple solution. In this instance, Cat 8 is the most recent type of Ethernet cable as of March 2022, offering the fastest transmission rates and the most bandwidth. Nevertheless, it could be too much for you, and worse still, it won’t be affordable.

As a result, choosing the right Ethernet cable involves more than just the category. Knowing the essential characteristics of various Ethernet types is only the beginning. The last piece of the jigsaw is understanding what your requirements are. Let’s talk about four essential characteristics to assist you to choose a cable that meets your demands to decode the last bit.

1. Maximum Cable Transmission Capacity

Each kind of Ethernet cable has a maximum transmission capacity, as shown in the table above. A cable’s maximum transfer speed is indicated by its maximum transmission capacity. You should choose a cable with suitable carrying capacity if you need to transport a lot of data through your wired connection.

For instance, choosing at least a Cat 6a Ethernet cable will be advantageous if you film and edit high-resolution video. Choosing the most recent categories would undoubtedly save more time for those working in video editing studios. Also, if you enjoy playing video games, you’ll need a cable with large bandwidth and fast data transmission rates. For more detailed suggestions, see our list of the top Ethernet cables for gaming.

2. Your Required Cable Length

The connected connection’s length is another important factor to take into account. It’s crucial to remember that each Ethernet category has a predetermined maximum transmission capacity that is reachable for a specific amount of time. In other words, you can only go that distance at those peak speeds.

For instance, a Cat 6a cable can transmit data at a maximum rate of 10Gbps for up to 180 feet. The maximum transmission speed will decline after that. In other words, maximum transmission speeds are lower the farther the cable extends from the ideal cable length for optimum data rates.

In light of this, you should choose a cable with a higher maximum data rate if you need to send data via an Ethernet connection over a greater distance to account for the transmission distance. As an illustration, consider a Cat 7a cable.

The greatest speeds are 100Gbps up to 49 feet but drop to 40Gbps at 164 feet. However, the highest speed at 328 feet is 10Gbps, which is still faster than what a Cat 5e cable will deliver at the same distance.

3. Internet Speed

Your internet speed is important as well. It is nothing short of overkill to purchase a Cat 7a Ethernet cable with a transfer throughput of up to 100Gbps when your internet connection is limited to 1Gbps. The capacity of your cable for transmission, the speed of your router, and the capability of your devices are the first three factors that affect the speed of your wired connection.

Your speeds will play a significant role in determining what you choose if you intend to utilize your cable to connect to the internet. This is a step-by-step instruction manual for measuring your internet speed. If your router is the issue, we offer advice for enhancing its speed. Never forget that it doesn’t harm to prepare your network for future speed improvement.

4. Application

You may use your cable indoors or outside at home. If you intend to run the wire indoors, a normal Ethernet cable would suffice. You need to choose a cable that is more durable for outside use, whether it be in the ground or on the surface, to survive the various weather conditions.

Instead of purchasing normal Ethernet connections in this situation, seek outdoor cables. Outdoor Ethernet cables are more durable since they employ solid copper wires with PE covering. Direct burial cables are the best choice for burying wires underground. These are a little more expensive, but they will be worthwhile.

Tracking your internet speeds

Tracking your internet speeds

Choosing a cable with the range and performance you want is the simplest method. What do you need, though?

Your home internet connection’s speed should be your first concern. An outdated Ethernet wire will slow you down if your internet speed is gigabit (1 Gbps). You can use anything Cat 5 or newer if your connection speed is less than 20 megabits per second or 10 megabits per second (more on this below).

If you are unsure about the real speed of your internet service, connect your PC directly to the modem and run this speed test. By doing this, you may get a general estimate of the connected connectivity you’ll require. Buying a 10Gbps Ethernet cable may be unnecessary if your subscription only allows for 50Mbps download speeds.

A better Ethernet cable can make a significant impact if you routinely transfer large files between computers or stream exceptionally high-bandwidth video. If that’s not the case and you just use the shallow parts of the internet, you might not see much of a difference.

To take advantage of speeds and future-proof your system, it’s a good idea to pick a more current cable if you need to replace an older one. Also, they can offer superior shielding, which can assist safeguard your data while it’s being sent. A fast Ethernet cable won’t significantly improve performance on its own, but a good cable may cooperate with other top-tier networking equipment to maximize the strength of your connection.

What does Cat mean?

You’ll immediately realize that Ethernet cables are classified into “Cat” categories when you start looking for specific models to suit your needs. Why does that matter?

Simply enough, “cat” stands for “category.” The standard version that the cable supports is indicated by the number that follows. Higher numbers, measured in megahertz, often correspond to quicker speeds and higher frequencies (MHz). Along with other technologies, newer cables often enable more bandwidths, resulting in quicker connections and better download rates.

More sophisticated Cat numbers could also suggest more dependable performance and greater long-distance performance. Because performance does tend to decrease over long distances, Ethernet cables often have two-speed ratings, one at around 10 to 30 meters and one at 100 meters.

Ethernet cable types

Ethernet cable types

If you want to secure your future, you may select the most recent Cat number (8 at the present) and not bother about the others. Or, you may use our helpful list below to see what each Category is appropriate for.

Cat 1 through Cat 5

Some categories won’t be covered since they’re too sluggish to be useful, are extremely outdated, and aren’t even considered official Ethernet standards.

Cat 5e

“Enhanced” is what the “e” in Cat 5e stands for. The Cat 5 and Cat 5e cables are identical in appearance. To prevent undesired signal transfers between communication channels, manufacturers create Cat 5e cables with stricter testing requirements (crosstalk). As it can support speeds greater than Cat 5 cables and has a cheap production cost, Cat 5e is now the most widely used cable.

Cat 6

Compared to Cat 5 and Cat 5e cables, the Cat 6 Ethernet cable supports higher bandwidths. They are tightly wrapped and frequently have shielding made of foil or braid. The twisted pairs of wires inside the Ethernet cable are shielded, reducing crosstalk and interference from noise. Technically, rates up to 10Gbps for up to 55 meters are supported with cat 6 cables. Nevertheless, such speed comes at a cost because Cat 6 cables are more expensive than Cat 5 and Cat 5e alternatives.

Cat 6a

Cat 6a’s “a” stands for “augmented,” not “a.” This standard’s cables are an improvement above Cat 6 versions since they can accommodate twice as much bandwidth. Moreover, they can sustain faster transmission speeds over longer wire lengths. Shielded Cat 6a cables have wrapping that is thick enough to prevent crosstalk, making them significantly denser and less flexible than Cat 6 cables.

Cat 7 and Cat 7a

While Cat 7 and Cat 7a cables have outstanding performance, most users seldom utilize them. I’ll explain why now:

By leveraging the most recent, widely used Ethernet technology, Cat 7 cables provide greater bandwidths and much quicker transmission speeds than Cat 6 connections. One of the most powerful classifications of Ethernet connections, Cat 7 cables can transmit data at speeds of up to 100Gbps over a distance of 15 meters. Cat 7 cables feature a modified GigaGate45 connection that is backward compatible with RJ45 Ethernet ports and is always insulated.

Although the backward compatibility helps a little, there are still challenges with adhering to prior Ethernet standards because the modified GG45 connection is a proprietary part. Because of this, the Cat 7 standard was avoided by the majority of manufacturers, and now it is quite uncommon. This challenge resulted in the creation of Cat 6a, which caused some marketing confusion when some vendors began referring to Cat 6a as the new Cat 7. Always read the specifications before making a purchase; if in doubt, go for Cat 8 instead.

One of the highest-spec Ethernet connections available is Cat 7a, but it’s hard to find and gives limited alternatives for networking gear support. The 7a standard, which is similar to Cat 7 but with an increased total capacity of more than 50%, was created to handle 40 Gigabit Ethernet connections up to 50 meters. Although Cat 7a cables are significantly more expensive than any other choice, in some circumstances, this upgrade could be advantageous. Only in extremely few circumstances could Cat 7a be used.

Cat 8

Under this standard, rates of up to 40Gbps at 30 meters and a maximum frequency of 2,000MHz are promised. Because of the high frequency involved and the need for shielding, Cat 8, cables are always insulated. Cat 8 also accommodates two connections. Hence, it is limited to three wires that are linked and have a cumulative length of 30 meters. Although cat 8 cables are more expensive than alternative solutions, they are now more accessible. For a 10-foot Cat 8, there are solutions available for about $15.

In addition, Cat 8 is the only cable that complies with the most recent IEEE specifications (the aforementioned 40Gbps and 2,000MHz frequency), which is one reason why, despite the substantially higher price, it’s a wonderful option for future-proofing. Also, it avoids the Cat 7 connection clutter.

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